Back in 2009, the library began a comprehensive review of its print-book collection, having learned from its checkout records that roughly 45% of the books in its circulating collection had never circulated or had never been recorded as used in-house. Only books were being reviewed — media, periodicals, reference books, maps, and government documents were exempt. Weeding is an important part of maintaining a library collection, making sure that materials are current and relevant to the curriculum and to research being done at NMU.
Approximately 75% of the unused books have been reviewed, and our withdrawal rate is well below our initial target of 50% — it’s closer to 18% of the total circulating collection at the moment. At that withdrawal rate, the project is more accurately described as simply catching up on weeding and updating that we should have been doing more proactively through the years. That’s pretty common across many academic and public libraries, and one description of the resulting problem is that over the decades, many libraries have built collections to the point of squeezing readers out of the building.
Some unused materials have been replaced with updated editions or newer materials, or, if they’re now available electronically, we’ve withdrawn the print and linked instead to the online format. Some books are best used in print and should remain on the shelf regardless. For the books we’re retaining, we’ve been upgrading our catalog records so the books are easier to identify, which we hope will increase usage. In addition, we’ve found some volumes that are valuable and belong in Special Collections or Archives, and a few have been sent to even more specialized collections like Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center. With the space freed, we’re making more places for study and collaborative work. We’ve also added access to more than 30,000 e-books in the last three years, for a total of 65,000 titles available electronically.